Conservation ethic gaining power in Lowcountry, author says

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comJuly 17, 2012 

Cover of "A Delicate Balance" by Angela Halfacre

I've long thought that what the Lowcountry needs is an army of Beany Newhalls.

She came to Hilton Head Island in 1954 and stamped a conservation ethic into the community's DNA two years before the first bridge opened it to a glut of development.

Where is the woman short in stature but long on tenacity when today's islanders want to dump marina muck into the pristine Calibogue Sound, expand the airport runway halfway to Parris Island, or "streamline" community standards in the name of turning around a national recession?

Where is the spirit of Beany when she and a small band of islanders played the biblical role of David in 1970 when plans for a giant BASF chemical plant were slain before it could ruin Port Royal Sound?

It's right here, for those willing to get involved. Hope that a new generation of conservationists has arisen and coalesced is the core of a new book from the University of South Carolina Press: "A Delicate Balance: Constructing a Conservation Culture in the South Carolina Lowcountry."

Author Angela Halfacre has watched a remarkable thing happen in the Lowcountry since the late 1980s as a professor at the College of Charleston for 10 years and now professor and director of the David E. Shi Center for Sustainability at Furman University. In her book, she documents the rise and maturation of a "culture of conservation" among individuals, families, grassroots organizations, communities, planners, politicians, ethnic groups, even developers.

Her honest look at what has happened on Hilton Head and beyond is not a warm and fuzzy story. But she has found a backbone gaining strength that may yet save an incredible place.

Through the eyes of leaders -- like Dana Beach at the Coastal Conservation League, Elizabeth M. Hagood of the Lowcountry Open Land Trust, landowner and businessman Charles G. Lane, Charleston Mayor Joseph P. "Joe" Riley, and Thomasena Stokes-Marshall of the Sweetgrass Heritage Preservation Society -- we see what can be achieved through coalitions and relentless attention to both the big picture and the minute detail. We see the rise of the ACE Basin, growth management, and appreciation for traditional Lowcountry cultures.

But throughout the book are constant reminders that conservation depends less on leaders than rank-and-file individuals. A collective conscience that can slay giants begins with personal responsibility. And when a victory is won, it's only short-term relief in a fight that will have to be won again and again, generation after generation.

Beany Newhall made positive contributions and fought the ruination of the Lowcountry until she died in 1991. Where is she when we need her? Angela Halfacre proves that she better be in the mirror.

Related content

  1. "A Delicate Balance"
  2. Angela Halfacre
  3. Beany Newhall helped keep Lowcountry's environmental conscience straight

KEY WORDS: conservation, Lowcountry, political science, Furman University, College of Charleston, Angela Halfacre, books, nonfiction, writers, sustainability, growth, development, sprawl, neo-traditional, environment.

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